‘I need this help’ — Destitute Gazans plea for aid to continue after US funding cut

‘I need this help’ — Destitute Gazans plea for aid to continue after US funding cut
Palestinian boys walk past a UN-run school in the Qalandia refugee camp near Ramallah in the West Bank. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2018

‘I need this help’ — Destitute Gazans plea for aid to continue after US funding cut

‘I need this help’ — Destitute Gazans plea for aid to continue after US funding cut

SHATI CAMP, GAZA: Abd Al-Kari Al-Far arrived at the aid distribution center to collect the food basket he receives from the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency every three months.
Inside there was flour, rice, sugar, lentils and oil, enough basic ingredients to feed him and his family.
“I need this help. Al-Far told Arab News. “It’s not a big deal for many people, but I do not work regularly. This helps me feed my family and my children.”
But Al-Far fears his journey this week to collect the goods in the Shati refugee camp may be his last.
The US has decided to freeze more than half of its first tranche of funding for 2018 to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Aid workers warn that the cut will have a devastating effect on the 5 million people it helps in both the Palestinian territories and Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.The impact is expected to be most severe in Gaza. The territory has been left utterly destitute by an Israeli blockade, a series of brutal wars, and the infighting between between Hamas which rules, Gaza and Fatah, which controls the West Bank. The increased levels of poverty has raised the demand on the services provided by UNRWA.
“I do not know that I will be able to get it again,” Al-Far said, of his supplies. “The (UNRWA) staff here say that the reality is difficult.”
The US State Department said on Tuesday that it would only pay $60 million of an initial $125 million in voluntary contributions to UNRWA for 2018. The money is mainly to pay salaries in schools and health facilities in Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.
US officials insisted the cut in funding was not to punish Palestinian leaders, who have been enraged by Donald Trump’s decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Some members of Trump’s team even called for a complete halt of the funding.
The officials said they want other countries to contribute and for the agency to be reformed. Belgium has already stepped in, offering $23 million.
Matthias Schmale, the UNRWA director in Gaza, told Arab News that the agency provides assistance to one million Palestinian refugees in the territory.
He said they were already struggling as the budget has been declining for years.
“We are extremely worried,” Schmale said. “We are trying to keep our basic services open.”
He said they would ask their other donors to supply their money earlier than normal “while we organize a massive fundraising campaign to replace this cut.”
Even if Washington provided the additional $65 million, the $125 million total would be well below the $360million that the US was expected to provide UNRWA through the whole year, Schmale said.
Fearing the knock-on effects of the budget cut, businesses in Gaza said they would strike on Monday to protest against the “catastrophic collapse” of the economy in the territory.
“The economic situation has been directly affected by the sharp decline in the purchasing power of the Gazans, the decline in the commercial and purchasing sector and the decrease in imports,” Maher Tabbaa, director of public relations at the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News
He said that at the main Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel imports had decreased by more than 40 percent in 2017.
A Palestinian police spokesman in Gaza, Ayman Al-Batniji, said around 100,000 Palestinians were arrested in 2017 because of unpaid debts.
Unemployment rates in Gaza have reached 46 percent overall and 67 percent among graduates. Household food insecurity in Gaza has risen to 50 percent according to aid agencies.
Rahma Dabban, a widow and mother of five, had her financial assistance from UNRWA suspended last year leaving her with just her food basket.
“I am a refugee from a refugee family,” Dabban said. “It is not my responsibility to look for funding. This is the role of states. What I know is that I want to live and that I can feed my children. They can stop it, but they must allow us to establish our state on our land.”
UNRWA was set up by the UN General Assembly in 1949 to provide assistance and protection to Palestinian refugees who had been forced to flee their homes by the war that led to the creation of Israel.
There are now 5 million registered Palestine refugees in the region.
UNRWA’s services include education, health care, aid provision, social services, running the refugee camps’ infrastructures and financial services.
“When they created us, the decision 70 years ago, based on a promise to Israelis and Palestinians to create two states, half of that promise has fulfilled,” Schmale said
“The decision says UNRWA should support the refugees until their state is created, there is no sense that we should be moved to another organization, when the promise the international community has given to the refugees has not been fulfilled.”